Elliot Sweeney has been a committed writer for many years, locating his work within the crime genre. He has had short stories published in anthologies and magazines, and makes time to write every day, be it early mornings or late at night. Manuscript assessments from The Literary Consultancy’s Free Reads scheme and Bookouture have enabled Elliot to confidently develop his debut novel ‘Tracks’ – a hardboiled thriller about grief, redemption, and how time can’t heal all wounds. Spread the Word’s Aliya Gulamani spoke to him to find out more…
Aliya: Hi Elliot, thanks so much for chatting with us. Can you start us off by telling us a bit about yourself and your writing journey please?
Elliot: Sure – I’m a thirty-nine year-old Londoner. I started writing young – fantasy stuff mainly – and through my teens and twenties I was more interested in music, lyrics and poems. Come my late-twenties, after a period of illness, I rediscovered prose, and began writing daily.
I began with flash-fiction and very short stories, and then broadened out. I still like to write shorts – 5-10 thousand words is a length that suits me, a great platform for trying out characters and ideas without the investment of time and labour that is a novel.
I started a novel-length piece a few years ago, but it wasn’t well planned, and looking back, I can see it was without genre and became more of an experimental journey, to see if I could produce a large piece of work, and to thaw out some of my personal issues.
I like short, sharp, punchy prose, and admire those writers who use words sparingly. I’m putting the finishing touches to a 74k crime novel called ’Tracks’ which I hope imitates this style.
Aliya: You’ve received feedback from both the Free Reads scheme and Bookouture on your novel-in-progress. What value have you personally found in getting professional feedback and how useful were both schemes in supporting your creative work?
Elliot: Where do I start? For me, there comes a point where I need an objective viewpoint – I’m not in a financial position to be able to afford critiques via conventional channels, and therefore found the availability of the Free Reads and Bookouture schemes to be invaluable.
The Free Read came in the early stages of writing ‘Tracks’, and the reviewer, Claire McGowan, gave really helpful pointers about dialogue and pace; the Bookouture critique arrived earlier this year after several redrafts and helped me lift the project even further. I now hope to submit to agents this summer.
Aliya: You also won the HW Fisher Scholarship for your novel-in-progress, which enabled you to have a fully-funded place on a Curtis Brown 3-month writing course – congrats! Can you tell us a bit about that and on the value of schemes for low-income writers?
Elliot: Without doubt, I wouldn’t have received this without that first Free Reads critique – the advice given to me helped turn my fledgling draft into a presentable manuscript which Curtis Brown showed interest in. I’m so grateful for this help – I feel like each part of my writing journey have helped refine my writing voice and position myself within a genre.
Aliya: Your novel sounds really interesting, what stage are you at now with it and how do you make time to write?
Elliot: I’m re-drafting – again! My plan is to orate the whole book aloud, record it, and listen back, as if it were an audiobook, in order to absorb the way it sounds – a technique I learnt through Curtis Brown. I think ‘Tracks’ is almost as polished as it can be; even if this novel remains unpublished, I’ve learnt so much from its writing it. I’ve drafted something brand new for the London Writers Awards, a contemporary noir novel whose idea came to me in a dream, and which I’m so excited to write.
I tend to get up really early and write before work (I’m a psychiatric nurse). I have a little boy, and a full-on life, so find an hour in the morning is the best time to work. I write every day, either editing, creating, researching. It’s tough, and sometimes feels quite lonely and indulgent, but I’m committed to it.
Aliya: I understand that your core interest is in the crime genre, are there any particular writers or books that have inspired you and why?
Elliot: I work in mental health and this vocation has been a big influence in my plotting and themes.
I’m a huge fan of post-war writers from the last century – Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, Patricia Highsmith to name a few. I also really like the more recent wave of UK hardboiled authors – Ken Bruen, Adrian McKintey, plus the likes of Val McDermid and Susie Steiner.
In terms of style – my big influences are Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver – bare, bold prose that gets under the skin. I also enjoy existential writers like Haruki Murakami and Paul Auster whose work sometimes seems genreless.
Aliya: What tips would you share with writers out there, who have a great idea / are sitting on a manuscript / are keen to get their story published?
Elliot: For any budding writers out there, especially those like me who are not from a literary background and have limited means, I’d wholeheartedly recommend applying for a free read critique. The team at Spread the Word are so invested in helping writers with their craft, and there’s such a wealth of expertise they can help you access. For me, it’s been transformative, helping me lift my work to the next level, boosting my confidence, reassuring me I’m on the right path, and opening doors I’d not thought reachable.
Also – write. Don’t think too much about it, just get the words onto the page, and commit to finishing the thing.
Once you’ve got a body of text, you can then worry about how to make it decent – but if you’ve only got an idea, then you’ll never know how good it could be. I don’t believe in waiting for a moment of inspiration to arrive – for me, writing is very much about perseverance and endurance – putting in the hours and graft – and being willing to make sacrifices along the way.
Published 4 July 2019